Attention business communicators and e-mail users: Although your high school English teacher is not looking over your shoulder, the rules of standard grammar and punctuation still apply. Yes, dear readers, that means a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period in addition to all other normal punctuation, word spellings and verb/noun pairings.
“It is never acceptable to use anything other than correct grammar and punctuation in written, e-mail and verbal communications for business,” said Karen Lindsey-Lloyd, director of career services at Mississippi College. “With more and more of Gen Xers and Millennials using text messaging, we tend to think it’s okay to write and speak in a sort of short hand. It is not. Business professionals still seek clear and well-written communications because of the thousands of e-mails most people receive daily.”
Lisa Morgan is a former high school English teacher who now works with the Eagle Ridge Conference Center at Hinds Community College where she teaches computer applications to business and industry, including e-mail etiquette.
“The most common errors I see in written communications in the electronic age are the same ones I saw in the classroom — where does the comma go? What is subject verb agreement? How do I spell that word?” she said. “As such, I’m not sure the errors are a generational issue as much as they are a reflection of a ‘forgetting’ to adapt speech and writing to the appropriate time and place.”
For example, Morgan observes, you might jot down a quick note to a family member or scribble a grocery list with mistakes one day and write a perfectly punctuated memo the next. She says it’s okay to use abbreviations and emoticons when texting since every letter costs money, but you should be able to write an e-mail that is clear and grammatical when you’re at work.
“I’ve actually done a number of business communications classes in the past eight years that dealt with grammar word usage, kind of an English teacher’s revenge for all those students who didn’t really pay attention to English in high school because they knew they weren’t going to be English teachers!” she said. “I think that although people touted computers as the dawn of a paperless office, we’re seeing that computers and written communications still have a valid place in the office, and that written communication is as important, if not more important, than before.”
Lindsey-Lloyd stresses the importance of being aware that verbal and written communication are key indicators used to evaluate a person’s ability to do a job. “While academic credentials and experience are key, the way you write or speak says a lot about you,” she said. “It can make the difference between getting promoted or not, getting a job offer or not.”
Her business communication tips include the following:
• Do not rely only on one form of communication. Follow up with colleagues and employers, using both e-mail and voice mail.
• Be consistent and say the same thing in both places.
• Always leave your first and last names, phone number and the reason you’re calling when leaving a voice mail message.
• Avoid being overly detailed regarding why you’re calling.
• Avoid using abbreviations or text message shorthand for words in e-mails.
• Don’t rely on spell check; always read what you’ve written.
• Text only if you know the person well and they have given you permission to do so.
• Avoid clever or overly creative voice mail greetings.
• Avoid clever or overly creative e-mail addresses.
“In today’s society we have two forms of communication — the one we use socially and the one we use professionally,” she added. “It is always important to know which one to use and when to use it.”
Morgan finds that one of the advantages of computers and the technology available today is the increased use of written communication. “In my years of teaching English, I met few students who liked writing essays and the process of putting pen to paper,” she said. “The speed of typing and text messaging has probably increased the amount of writing most folks do.”
She thinks text messaging gets a bad rap for the use of abbreviations and symbols in place of whole words. “But I would imagine that a lot of those people who are using text messaging weren’t writers in the traditional sense in the first place,” she said.
Morgan tries to impress on students that the rules of written communication apply to any written word. “Especially in business, what you write is a reflection of you,” she said. “We think of e-mail and text messaging as being temporary. In many cases, the words are permanent. You never know where it is going to end up or who is going to see it and you should carefully keep in mind the impression you are creating of yourself.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.